For the Dear Hearts and Gentle People Who Still Live in my Hometown – Culbertson, Montana

mailbox,farmcountryLike some others in the community, we (those kids of Immanuel and Edith Larsen) did not live at Culbertson except for the first decade or two of life but like most in the community, our lives were and are utterly stamped, defined, shaped, and framed by Culbertson, Montana and the good life that was built by the persistent Danes of Dane Valley.

To this day our family shares the same life roots and heritage as those who have sheltered and nourished their families in Roosevelt County over the sixty years since I last lived there. We share the same blessings that were the motivation for the word pictures I’ve tried to provide for our two sons. Perhaps some of my word pictures will reflect some of your old black and white photographs. I hope you find that to be so.  Perhaps you will discover some memories that you were part of as well. You may be reminded of something that is yours alone.

Perhaps your Grandma or Mom rode the same school bus as Fred and I.  Perhaps your Dad was one of Bill’s high school buddies. (I heard something about a shop teacher being given grief by Bill and some of his friends when they sort of dismantled and rebuilt an old car—inside the shop in the basement of the old high school?? Some of you may want to ask your Grandfathers if they might know anything about that.)  One of your aunts may have mentioned some odd goings on with Virginia and her trombone…there were some cattle involved in that story.

The water would have closed pretty quickly over the spot occupied by me in school activities. For one glorious year during eighth grade, I was a genuine majorette with the Culbertson High School band and I have the pictures (somewhere) to prove it. That was a great thing for a kid to get to do.  I played clarinet from grades 5-12.

At Dakota Lutheran Academy in Minot, I received the Betty Crocker Homemaker of Tomorrow award. I’m actually still working on getting photos that would provide evidence that that was a good decision on the part of those who made it. (Back story—I was then and am still now the farm girl at heart—I only won the thing because I wrote a good test. That’s all. To this day that little gold award lays just inside the door of my kitchen cupboard, right beside the baking soda and the vanilla, so that whenever I have yet another unusual kitchen experience and my husband looks at me with bemusement, I can easily produce the aware and remind him that I was once, long ago and in a land far, far away, designated “The Betty Crocker Homemaker of Tomorrow.”  I remind him, “You see what it says–‘tomorrow’…it’s always ‘tomorrow…’ “ )

We seven Larsen Kids were born over a period of seventeen years. My oldest brother and his cousin joined the Navy the minute they were old enough in 1945, when I was barely a year old. Throughout my preteen and teen years, my brothers were serving in the military in far flung corners of the world: pre-statehood Alaska and Hawaii, Korea, Spain, Antarctica and bases through the contiguous Lower 48.  My sisters were off to college in Blair, Nebraska and then on to southern California for work and marriage, where several aunts (who grew up in the little prairie home in Sheridan County) had also established their homes and careers.

We seven did not all have the same family even though our parents’ one and only marriage was indeed “until death did them part.”  Calvin had seven younger siblings and was gone from home before four of them were twelve years old.  Being the youngest of Those Seven Larsen Kids, I watched in awe as my siblings left home for distant horizons when I was still too young to be sure of how I was related to some of them.

Shirley’s role as older sister meant that she lived her teen years as a built-in Mother’s Helper.  A birthday card given to her (from Fred and I) when we were about two and four reflects the tender regard she had for the two of us. She had graduated from high school, had a year of college, and was going to move to Sidney to work.  It grieved her to leave her little brother and sister, much of whose daily care had been provided by her.

Dick’s Navy service took him first to Norfolk, Virginia where our parents and older siblings visited him, and brought back the most amazing black and white photographs of mature trees leaning—away from the prevailing winds.  Then he was off to Point Barrow, Alaska and later San Diego, and careers in electrical engineering and ranching in Wyoming.  Bill’s Marine service took him to California and Hawaii, followed by careers and businesses he built in Iowa.  Calvin’s Navy career took him, literally, all over the world.

A car trip to California in 1957 with Dad, Fred and me was for the purpose of meeting Virginia’s infant daughter and collect Mom (Edith) and bring her back home from her time there helping after baby’s birth.  Fred had joined Dad and I via train from Minot where he was attending Dakota Lutheran Academy, a Lutheran high school, disembarking in Culbertson just before we began the drive to Orange, California.

We were, literally, all over the place.  By the time I was seven and Fred was nine, our five older siblings were off on their adult lives and adventures and we only saw them on visits until we ourselves were old enough to build relationships as fellow adults.

I say all that to both claim and acknowledge these things:

  • I am a farm girl from Culbertson, Montana. The Sugar Top was in our pasture and we climbed it, firmly and repeatedly, as part of our childhood adventures.
  • Because of our parents’ involvement in the community with Ebenezer Lutheran Church, school activities, the elevator, precinct voting work, the one room school houses in the early years, Ladies Aid service and their willingness to support all of us as we participated in school activities, my surviving siblings and I still have the memories of main street and the school yards and friends’ homes.
  • Our best family gathering in the later years was at the Culbertson Centennial All School Reunion in 1987 when four of us were able to make it a bit of a reunion as well. Mom had been living in Sidney for twenty five years after Dad’s death in 1962.  It was wonderful to roam around town and be welcomed into the mix of the 1962 graduating class.  Even though I had not graduated from Culbertson High School, when my grade school classmates found out I was there, they hunted me down in the bleachers and welcomed me into their circle. That’s a precious memory.
  • Our family was rooted in Roosevelt County—and exploded out from there.
  • The stories I tell here began to find their way to paper around 2010 when, because of our particular family experience, I knew I needed to write it down for our sons.
  • Our sons knew who they were by heritage but they didn’t have the experience of growing up surrounded by who they were. During their young years in California, I worried sometimes that they would turn into Californians. This is part of the ongoing effort to prevent that.




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